Second Life Goes Before Congress

Hat tip to OriontheSmiter for pulling this up — don't know how the royal we missed it, seeing as how it took place on April Fool's (really). But a House of Representatives telecommunications subcommittee held a hearing on online virtual worlds April 1, and that included the requisite avatar-making and getting-hip-with-the-kids by the panel members.

Second Life is a convenient punching bag for gamers, and I feel kind of bad caning on it two days straight. But it invites the abuse with this kind of oblivious, self-serious self-parody: Rep. Ed Markey's avatar gaveling the online hearing, and in the public gallery there is "a goth character with feathered wings, a pink cat, a phantom with shimmering grey dreadlocks, a winged grasshopper, women in tube and bikini tops, and a naked man floating through the air." At least the griefers didn't show up to overrun the meeting with flying penises.

Here's something: In real life, I loathe it when some demonstration making a point I support is inevitably overtaken by stilt-walkers, puppeteers and bongo-drumming hippies. Like, way to take that message to the mainstream, folks. In Second Life, aren't they sick of having every furry, faerie and goth speak for the whole — especially in Congress? Or are they the communities busybodies, the ones who come to every Second Life PTA meeting?

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, writing about the hearing, notes that its ostensible purpose was in probing the downsides of online worlds (child exploitation, terrorist recruiting, etc.) He correctly points out that it amounted to "an infomercial for Second Life." The founder got to play a promotional video and boast that Second Life is changing the nature of communication itself. Um, no. Sequestering people at their computers for hours out of the day and ensuring their only contact with a human being — some of it sexual — is through the prism of a computer screen, is not for my money a real communication breakthrough. A variant, sure.

This reminds me of the time on King of the Hill, when Hank confronts the Christian rock band. "Listen, you're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse." I'd like to say the same thing, substituting "communication" for Christianity, and "online gaming" for "rock and roll."

Goofy Characters and Weird People — Sounds Like a Hearing [The Washington Post, thanks OriontheSmiter]


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